The SoCon deserves better. The Selection Committee perennially takes mediocre major conference teams over top-notch mid and low-major teams. Never let them tell you that it’s about the athletes. It’s about the money.
For top teams in the Southern Conference, like East Tennessee State, Furman, and UNC Greensboro, the only surefire way into the NCAA Tournament is to win the conference. That quest begins on Thursday March 6 in Asheville, NC with this year’s edition of the SoCon Tournament.
Don’t be alarmed that you have to learn a new venue. The U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville is now known as Harrah’s Cherokee Center. It is the same building, just with a new name. We know that some venues play to overs and some play to unders and it is always important to consider that when handicapping a tournament field.
Here are the teams, seeds, and the odds from Circa Sports for the 2020 SoCon Tournament:
- East Tennessee State 27-4 (16-2) +105
- Furman 25-6 (15-3) +290
- UNC Greensboro 23-8 (13-5) +445
- Mercer 17-14 (11-7) +5000
- Western Carolina 18-11 (10-8) (H2H tiebreaker) +1800
- Chattanooga 19-12 (10-8) +2400
- Wofford 16-15 (8-10) +2200
- Samford 10-22 (4-14) +50000
- VMI 8-23 (3-15) +15000
- The Citadel 6-23 (0-18) +100000
Obviously I’ve cited the odds from the retail Circa Sportsbook in Las Vegas in order to get this out quicker to everybody so that they can get some insight before the offshores open. Use your best discretion when betting with the offshores and always shop around for the best prices.
All 10 teams qualify for the conference tournament. The top six teams get a bye into the quarterfinals. Unlike most mid and low-major tournaments, all games are held at the same neutral site. East Tennessee State deserves an at-large berth and could very well be one of the last four teams in if Furman or UNC Greensboro wins this conference tournament. Either ETSU or Furman deserves an at-large berth, but it sure seems like the only team going dancing is the one that wins this tournament.
Per the conference ratings from Bart Torvik, the SoCon ranks 15th out of the 32 conferences. It is dragged down by some really bad teams at the bottom of the league, but the top three is the best of any mid-major conference. This will be a fun one and these conferences always are when there are teams deserving of spots in the Field of 68 that can only get them by playing their best basketball over three days.
Here is the schedule for the 2020 Southern Conference Tournament:
Friday March 6
5 p.m. ET: 9 VMI vs. 8 Samford
7:30 p.m. ET: 10 The Citadel vs. 7 Wofford
Saturday March 7
12 p.m. ET: 9/8 winner vs. 1 East Tennessee State
2:30 p.m. ET: 5 Western Carolina vs. 4 Mercer
6 p.m. ET: 10/7 winner vs. 2 Furman
8:30 p.m. ET: 6 Chattanooga vs. 3 UNC Greensboro
Sunday March 8
4 p.m. ET: 9/8/1 winner vs. 5/4 winner
6:30 p.m. ET: 10/7/2 winner vs. 6/3 winner
Monday March 9
7 p.m. ET: Championship Game
ETSU gets some big rest advantages by being the #1 seed here. The winner of VMI/Samford has a quick turnaround for the quarterfinals and then ETSU gets the most rest of any team in the semifinals. That is a tough turnaround from Saturday to Sunday for the winner of Chattanooga and UNC Greensboro. That gives Furman a little bit of an edge in that semifinal tilt.
Some mid and low-major conferences do incentivize winning the regular season via the conference tournament schedule and this is one of them. ETSU has an edge in that regard and appears likely to make it to the finals. Mercer and Western Carolina are fine teams and Mercer did beat ETSU by 16 back in January, but ETSU got revenge by 13 on the road 2.5 weeks later.
Furman was the only other team to beat ETSU and it sure seems like those two are on a crash course to meet on Monday. Don’t sleep on UNCG, who is the best defensive team in this conference. Their late-season swoon in the final week is concerning, as is the fact that the Spartans lost twice to ETSU and once to Furman. They did beat Furman on the road, but got beat by about the same margin at home. UNCG’s offense fell off in games against better competition.
Avoiding the ETSU side of the bracket makes sense, but which team makes more sense between Furman and UNCG? It’s hard to say. Wofford is down quite a bit, but the Terriers did knock off Furman during the regular season and would be an interesting quarterfinals matchup. Chattanooga just beat UNC Greensboro in the regular season finale, but UNCG had nothing to gain or lose in that game. When it mattered, the Spartans won by 20.
To me, UNCG has the less taxing of the two quarterfinal games. The problem is that Furman seemingly has more upside, especially on offense. Most sites have Furman as the best team in the conference, but running through Wofford, UNCG, and ETSU is tough.
UNCG forces a ton of turnovers, but is among the 10 worst teams in college basketball at the free throw line. There is a lot of give and take with this team and the defense has fallen off over the last four games.
It may just be a case where the #1 seed actually gets a big advantage and has the better path to victory. It is always more fun to find good values down the board, but the paths for UNCG and Furman are not the same as the path for ETSU.
Pick: East Tennessee State +105